KEVIN McHattie has more reason than most footballers to be wary of artificial surfaces, having broken his ankle on one during the early days of his career. But the Hearts left-back soon overcame any worries he might have had about such pitches, and insists he will go into tackles with as much commitment as ever this afternoon when the Edinburgh club visit Queen of the South.
Now 21, McHattie was just 16 and playing for Dunfermline when the injury occurred. “I broke my ankle playing on the AstroTurf at Alloa,” he explained. “Someone came in from the side and smashed me and I was out for a year.
“I think the pitch actually came up as he slid into me, and my ankles got caught underneath it. I had pins and a plate put in, but they’re all out now.
“The first time after that, we played Livingston, and I could actually feel the screws because of the pounding they took on the astro. So I had to get them taken out.
“It went through my head a lot back then but not now. I’m over it now. I just get on with it.
“I’ve played on astro several times since then and I am happy to do so. I trained with Dunfermline on astro a number of times and that helped.
“The pitches are better now as well. The 4G surfaces are a bit longer and softer, which helps the game and allows you to pass it better. And if there’s a 50/50 going I’ll be there.”
Whatever happens at Palmerston Park and elsewhere in the Championship today, Hearts will end the weekend on top of the table, having held on to their six-point lead as a result of Hibernian’s win over Rangers on Monday.
“All the boys are flying with the result at the weekend and then the result [at Ibrox],” McHattie continued. “It’s great to be six points clear, and we’re looking to build on that. Hibs did us a favour by going there and getting the three points.
“I didn’t watch it – me and Callum [Paterson] were playing Fifa, but he was keeping an eye on it on his phone. I was shocked to see them 3-0 up at half-time, to be fair. I expected Rangers to come out and grab a goal or two and make it difficult, which they did. But well done to Hibs and it did us a favour.”
McHattie has a lot of expertise to draw on at Tynecastle as he seeks to further the improvement he made last season. Head coach Robbie Neilson was also a full-back, while the addition of experienced defender Adam Eckersley to the squad has provided competition for a place in the team as well as another useful source of advice.
“We just look to win each game. The gaffer has us in doing video analysis every morning looking at the opposition so we can pinpoint and target their weaknesses.
“He’s talking to the defenders all the time, stressing we need to keep clean sheets, because it could go down to goal difference at the end of the season. So we need to keep goals down to a minimum.
“Going forward we have pace, we’re strong, we’re confident, we have it all. We’re winning 4-0 and 5-0.
“The Dumbarton game [a 0-0 draw] they sat in and made it difficult for us. We came in the next morning and the gaffer showed us things we could have done better and how to break them down. “Then we go out onto the pitch and keep doing it. It’s all about repetition.
“Adam’s a good lad and he has come in to give me a challenge and I accept that. It’s a great challenge for me. He’s been at Manchester United and it’s great to see him here, and it gives me good competition.
“He helps the younger ones out as well, which is what we need. Sam [Nicholson] is playing in front of us and he’s doing great, he’s getting forward and attacking. Jamie [Walker] as well – his workrate has increased dramatically. And that’s what we need: hard work.”
• The Foundation of Hearts has announced the appointments of a fifth director, Donald Cumming, and a special adviser, Marcia Campbell.
Cumming, a partner at London-based law firm CMS Cameron McKenna, will provide legal assistance.
Ms Campbell, a main board non-executive director of CNP Assurances, Sainsbury’s Bank and Murray International Trust plc, will help the board with strategy and good governance practices.